HPE plans Wi-Fi/5G convergence at the customer edge

via Flickr © Wesley Fryer (CC BY-SA 2.0)

via Flickr © Wesley Fryer (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • Wi-Fi is now ready to operate as an ‘on ramp’ for enterprise 5G
  • HPE’s new Aruba Air Slice is based on the same OFDMA radio technology that powers the 4G LTE and 5G NR radios  
  • While its Aruba Air Pass offers seamless hand-off between cellular and Wi-Fi networks without sacrificing security or quality of service

HPE takes the view that Wi-Fi will very often be the best solution for indoor coverage in the 5G era and it has followed through on this conviction by buying one of the leaders in the space, Aruba.

Fast forward to yesterday and HPE made a slew of 5G product and service announcements (see - HPE unveils open “as-a-service” 5G portfolio) including ambitious plans for Aruba Wi-Fi at what it calls the ‘customer edge’. 

According to Phil Mottram, Vice President, Communications and Media Solutions at HPE, “On the enterprise edge, what we see is a convergence between Wi-Fi and 5G technologies, so what we’ve done is enabled Wi-Fi for 5G so that Wi-Fi becomes an on-ramp,” he told TelecomTV. 

In its newish high frequency guises, where Wi-Fi occupies both 5GHz and 6GHz frequency bands, the network technology has enough capacity to serve the densest of  crowded office spaces (if it’s able to serve crowded sports stadiums it should be able to handle a bunch of people hunched over laptops). 

On the other hand, the alternative indoor 4G/5G small cell solutions tend to be more expensive and are notoriously difficult to set up for multiple operators. Even integrating with a single operator is more difficult than it should be. 

Voice over Wi-Fi solutions, on the other hand, have been in operation for years and have now reached a level of manageability and sophistication to make them a fitting partner for 5G. Simply put, 5G naturally gets to do the outdoor tasks and in many circumstances Wi-Fi can be left to handle the indoor. 

Wi-Fi now entrenched in the enterprise

Apart from anything else, Wi-Fi is now well entrenched in many enterprise settings, so convincing managements to yank it out just to make way for 5G won’t cut it. The clever way forward is to enable convergence between the two, says HPE. 

To that end HPE says it has managed to extend 5G cellular footprint into enterprises with a Passpoint-based Wi-Fi Service. Passpoint is a standard created by the Wi-Fi Alliance to enable mobile devices to automatically authenticate on enterprise Wi-Fi networks using their cellular credentials and is now broadly accepted and supported on nearly all mobile devices.

The new HPE service, called Aruba Air Pass, allows for a seamless hand-off between cellular and Wi-Fi networks, without sacrificing security or quality of service. 

“Air Pass allows traffic to go onto the wifi network and then seamlessly move onto the 5G network  - so it brings the two networks together,” says HPE’s Mottram

When used in conjunction with Air Slice, an Aruba technology that improves radio performance, telcos can enable seamless Wi-Fi calling and gigabit-class guaranteed performance, he says.

“Air Slice allows enterprise customers to segment their Wi-Fi networks,” says Mottram, so service can be assigned to different channels with a high performance channel for important calls or applications. 

HPE makes the case that due to evolving building codes, energy efficient construction materials and low-emission glass, cellular signals are challenged when penetrating buildings. 

However, it claims, Aruba customers can easily leverage their existing enterprise Wi-Fi infrastructure as a cost-effective alternative to deploying indoor small cells or distributed antenna systems (DAS). Because 5G standards support aggregation of both 3GPP and Wi-Fi radio access networks (RANs) the way is clear to deliver new classes of enterprise services, such as network slicing.  

Sharing 5G radio innovation

As it’s based on the same OFDMA radio technology that powers the 4G LTE and 5G NR radios, Aruba Air Slice can optimize user and application experience by providing carrier-grade quality assurance. 

By dynamically allocating radio resources, such as time, frequency and spatial streams, Aruba Air Slice guarantees performance for latency-sensitive applications such as AR/VR, Zoom and Slack, mobile gaming and real-time IoT applications, HPE claims.

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